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Why Boko Haram uses more girls for suicide bombing than any other insurgency

Why Boko Haram uses more girls for suicide bombing than any other insurgency

Nigeria

Nigerian-based terror group Boko Haram is one of the most deadly terrorist organisations in the world.

The group, led by Abubakar Shekau after gaining grounds in 2009, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) in March 2015.

It has wings across the Lake Chad Basin region around the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

Until 2016, it was named the world’s most deadly terrorist group ahead of ISIS for killing over 6,000 people.

Another benefit of using children as suicide bombers is that they are difficult to detect and thus effective at penetrating otherwise secure areas ... They also serve as a generally costless source of labor.

Its modus operandi is suicide bombing by strapping bombs on girls and women to target government officials, state institutions and public places.

They kidnap women and girls after raids of villages in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The men are either inducted into the group or beheaded.

The height of the abductions was in April 2014 when the terrorist group raided raid the dormitories of a girls’ high school at night in the northern town of Chibok.

276 schoolgirls were abducted, 50 managed to escape at the time leaving 219. Another girl escaped in May 2016, 21 girls and a baby were released same year after negotiations.

A girl was also found by Nigerian troops on January, 5, 2017, followed by the rescue of another girl in the Sambisa forest where the group is based.

A few weeks after marking three years since the girls were abducted, 82 of the girls were released in May, 2017, leaving 113 girls in the hands of the group.

A lot of international attention was created for the release of the girls by high-profiled personalities using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirl.

Videos released by Boko Haram prove that the girls are safe, yet, hundreds of girls and women detonate bombs regularly in the northeast killing dozens every month.

The group started using suicide bombers on April 8, 2011.

According to a report released by a U.S. terrorism research institution, Combating Terrorism Center on August 9, Boko Haram has deployed 434 bombers to 247 different targets during 238 suicide-bombing attacks from April 11, 2011, to June 30, 2017.

“At least 56% of these bombers were women, and at least 81 bombers were specifically identified as children or teenagers,” the report said, adding that Boko Haram has deployed more female bombers than any other insurgent group in history.

It however explains that the group’s suicide bombing is less effective than other suicide bombing groups despite the killing of 1,934 people including 349 bombers during the period.

It says women are mostly sent to civilian targets including markets and bus stations due to the lower levels of screening of women by security officials and vigilante groups.

Also, more women are used because they are paired in large groups to increase their effectiveness as “the average fatalities per bomber is approximately 4.2 for female bombers and 6.7 per male bomber,” the report said.

For the girls and teen suicide bombers, they are used because “they have little agency over their own actions … and are inherently easier to coerce into suicide bombings than adults”.

The report also cites drugging of the children prior to suicide bombing and also vulnerability to psychological manipulation.

“Another benefit of using children as suicide bombers is that they are difficult to detect and thus effective at penetrating otherwise secure areas … They also serve as a generally costless source of labor and it’s easy to add them to the fold,” it adds.

The youngest child used as a suicide bomber was seven years old.

The report said that Boko Haram only started using female bombers in 2014 after the Chibok kidnappings.

“Through the global response to the Chibok abductions, the insurgency learned the potent symbolic value of young female bodies … that using them as bombers would attract attention and spread pervasive insecurity,” co-author Hilary Matfess told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I think the media attention and international campaign around the girls motivated Boko Haram … to enact atrocities on women as a means of building its brand,” he added.

Another reason it maintained the use of female bombers after 2014 is due to encouragement by the rise of the Islamic State in the Levant, which has featured children in its propaganda, the report added.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in the insurgency, and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Nigeria’s war against the insurgency has pushed the group deep into the Sambisa Forest which is regularly attacked by the Nigerian army.

Boko Haram still claims dominance despite display of weakness.

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